As he watched a horrifying crackdown unfold in his homeland of Syria after the start of popular protests on 15 March last year, US-based Syrian composer and pianist Malek Jandali felt obligated to speak out, believing that it was his “duty to reflect the reality on the ground”.
The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights now estimates approximately 16,500 deaths since the start of the country’s uprising 18 months ago, in a conflict that the United Nations now considers to be a civil war.
“For me, it is not a political issue. As soon as a bullet hit a child, it became a humanitarian issue for me” Jandali told Index.
Jandali decided to speak out through his music, in order to “support the Syrian people and give a voice to the people who don’t have it”.
Around the start of the uprising, Jandali was visiting Syria and was inspired to write a song entitled I Am My Homeland, releasing it on Syria’s Independence day, 17 April. Without any explicit reference to Syria, Jandali made sure that the song pulled on a universal sense of a loss of homeland. He then sent a copy of the composition to every Syrian embassy across the globe.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee invited the artist to perform at their annual convention last year, but only on one condition: he could not perform I Am My Homeland.
Jandali was told by organisers that they “did not want to divide the community — especially the Syrian one”. After a heated debate, Jandali said organisers told him, “if you want to perform it, you are not welcome to come”.
Jandali took this as a revoked invitation, as he would not perform at the conference without performing the controversial song.
The composer slammed the organisation publicly for their decision, and the committee then released a statement claiming that his invitation to the event was never withdrawn. Organisers of the event then played his song without his approval. Jandali responded by filing a lawsuit against the organisation for copyright infringement. The case was eventually settled, on the condition that a donation be made to Syrian refugees in Turkey, as well as an apology to Syrian-American people. Jandali says the organisation told him they would not fulfill either request.
At a protest for Syria at the White House on 23 July 2011, Jandali played I Am My Homeland after playing both the Syrian and American national anthems. Four days later, his parents were brutally attacked in Damascus. Jandali says security forces beat his mother while his father was handcuffed and forced to watch.
While the attack against his parents was meant to silence him, Jandali became even more determined to speak out against Syria’s regime. “When you get attacked in such a brutal way, and you know you are on the right side of humanity, it gives you more determination,” he says.
His mother told him to continue to speak out, telling him what happened to her was “at least worth one more concert”. Jandali performed the next weekend, despite concerns over his safety.
After his parents fled Syria, Jandali published the photographs of their injuries. Following the publicity, Jandali said that in September last year Syrian security forces raided the home of his parents with intent to kill, as he said footage showed armed men forcing entry to the house.
Jandali continues to speak out in support of Syria’s revolution, and has faced attacks both on and off-line. After releasing his Freedom Symphony in February 2012 — the video for which containede powerful images of protest and clashes with security forces — Jandali said his home was bombed, and his official website hacked.
The artist continues to receive threats via Facebook, but will continue to speak out.
“There’s no grey,” says Jandali. “It’s either for or against murder of innocent children. I always talk about innocent children because they have no political affiliation.”
Sara Yasin is an Editorial Assistant at Index. She tweets from @missyasin